One of the things I really loved about Summer School was the chance to hear so many other people’s ‘how/why I got into translation’ stories. We’re all so different – some of us grew up speaking more than one language and gravitated towards translation that way; some of us came to it through studying other languages; some of us fell in love with another country’s literature and want to share it, while some thrive on solving the linguistic puzzle of translation, that feeling of finding exactly the right way to express something in a different language.
Almost all of us have an inferiority complex about something – whether it’s about not knowing enough about literature, or not having spent enough time living in our source language country, or not having done much commercial translation, or having done too much commercial translation…the list goes on and on. It was so revealing to have one-to-one conversations with all these interesting, impressive people, and hear each of them confess ‘well, I’m not really that great. Everybody else here can X, and I’ve never done that.’ And I’d say ‘well, I feel the same way about Y. I’m the only one here who hasn’t Y.’ And then, more often than not, they would reply ‘oh, but you’ve worked in publishing! You’ve got experience that nobody else in the group has!’ And I’d think oh yes, that’s right, I did. I do.
It’s funny, how we feel so self-conscious about the things we don’t know that other people do, and we rarely think about the things we do know that other people might not.
My interest in translation was always the thing that made me a bit weird in the world of publishing. Now, on the other hand, my experience in publishing is one of the things that makes me a bit weird in the world of translation (the other one is my interest in children’s books). A couple of times at Summer School, I heard translators complaining about The Publishing Industry and felt faintly annoyed, as if it were me they were complaining about. It’s odd to hear people talking about ‘your’ industry as if it were something foreign and exotic, where editors and marketing and rights people get up to who-knows-what and occasionally deign to email you to tell you that rights to the story you want to translate are available/not available. It makes me feel a bit smug sometimes, actually: I know what goes on inside that black box. I’ve been there, and I’ve talked about translated literature to publishing people who didn’t really want to listen, and it made me want to be a translator rather than a publishing executive. And now I am a translator, and it turns out that I love publishing after all, and I want to get back inside the black box and talk about translated literature some more, and hopefully find some people who do want to listen.
Being in between can feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes. I always feel like the odd one out – I feel like a translator at publishing conferences, and a publishing-type person at translation events, and when I meet other in-between people like me I get very excited, because there don’t seem to be very many of us. But as my friends reminded me at Summer School, it’s good to have an experience combination that not many other people have. It makes me feel as if I might have something to contribute to several different facets of the Making Books Happen industry.
To be honest, all I really want to do is to work in the Making Books Happen industry. I love translating books, and I love selling books (whether one by one, or several thousand at a time), and I love working on books to make them into better books. And I hold out hope for a career that lets me do all of those things, consecutively or concurrently; I tell myself it must be possible, because I know other people who have done it. As my M.A. year comes to an end, I’ve decided that I won’t be picking a ‘side’ of the industry any time soon. I’m going to stay in between for as long as I can.